There are a few ‘Nicola Brownes’ in the English speaking world, doing things that I would have quite liked to do. When I google my name ( doesn’t everybody?) I see evidence of lives I might have lived. What if one of these Nicolas was really me as I might have been? Shadow Web began with that premise that every one has a double (or two or three) living in other worlds that are almost the same as this one, but whose histories differ in some significant way. It is a common enough idea, and as I’d had to take the doppelganger out of The Spellgrinder’s Apprentice I was really keen to write another story about doubles.
There was no question about the kind of alternate world I wanted to write about.
When I was at school we studied the war poetry of the First World War and although my parents lived through the second, it was the terrible loss of that generation of young men in the Great War that has always haunted my imagination.
So many people died and so many leaders in the creative arts were among them, that I have often tried to guess what might have been if they had survived – in what ways the world would have been different.
Counterfactuals are always difficult and the more I thought about it the more it became clear that the Second World War would not have happened without the first. I also wondered if the many social and technological changes which were given impetus by the war would have happened in quite the same way.
The London Jessica discovers still has most of the buildings that in our world were destroyed by the Blitz. It has some familiar technology, but its ownership is largely confined to the rich. The social changes we take for granted have not happened. There are still great country houses staffed by armies of servants, poor women and rich women under thirty do not have the vote and people without the means to support themselves end up in the workhouse. Britain is still an Imperial power with strong links with Germany through the royal family and various lucrative commercial alliances.
It is a world of huge differences between the rich and the poor, a world simmering with political discontent kept in check by ruthless policing by the King’s Own Constabulary, a world of spies and informers, of double agents and danger; a great place to set a story.
Jessica herself arrived pretty well fully formed. I had just read ‘Diving in’ by my friend Kate Cann and was struck by the immediacy of Kate’s writing.
I decided I wanted to write a first person story from the point of view of a teenage girl as Kate did so successfully.
The minute I typed the first line I knew who Jess was and my major struggle in writing the book was to get her to be quiet and focus on the things I needed her to see, as she was very prone to getting distracted by a nice pair of shoes. Jess isn’t an air head, but I don’t think she is natural heroine material: she just does what she has to do. I was rather proud of her courage by the end, which is very strange when you think about…